Detroit, Gerald Cleaver's sophomore release and a tone portrait of the Motor City, further establishes the drummer, best known as a prolific and versatile sideman, as a leader and composer in his own right. A brief photo essay in the liner notes displaying dilapidated buildings and skid-row denizens strikes a melancholy tone, but the music is anything but.
Cleaver's tunes are vigorous and compelling: "The Silly One" has through-composed accents that lend it effortless forward motion; "Henry" has slow moving harmonic pads and a canon-like structure with interesting textures; "Step Three" is upbeat, a nice tune with tasteful touches; the additive rhythms of "Seven Sisters Down" creates the effect of a limping 'waltz'; and the title track, one of the best, has a catchy A-section and intermeshing horn lines in the B-section.
Cleaver culled the talents of JD Allen (tenor), Andrew Bishop (soprano, tenor and bass clarinet), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ben Waltzer (piano) and Chris Lightcap (bass) to interpret his work and a fine team it is. Bishop's deep clarinet and soprano fill out the tonal canvas; his soprano solo on "Step Three" is both exploratory and cohesive. Pelt is consistently excellent, varying his tone and mood to suit the aesthetic environment, at times modestly underplaying, at others gasping and whooping with dramatic flair. Allen and Waltzer, too, are versatile and empathetic to the needs of the song, the former prone to extended fiery outbursts, the latter typified by chromatically-embellished, thematically-unified improvisations.
Simultaneously mainstream and forward-thinking, self-contained yet open-ended, Detroit embodies the currency and vitality of its namesake's hard bop legacy in today's creative music scene.
Far East; (For wrath kills the foolish man, and envy slays) The Silly One; Henry; Step Three; Dorham; Grateful; Seven Sisters Down; Carla's Day; Found; Pilgrim's Progress; 6350; Detroit (Keep It in Mind); Praise the Lord!.
Gerald Cleaver: drums; J. D. Allen: tenor saxophone; Andrew Bishop: soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Lightcap: bass; Ben Waltzer: piano.